As I wandered through the exhibition and read Henri Matisse: A Second Life, by Alastair Sooke (one of the many indulgences I treated myself to in the dangerously lovely Tate exhibition shop!), I began to be aware of Matisse as a powerful role model for self-management. He was creating a life worth living and creating art worth celebrating around his illness.
As he became more frail and unable to venture out in to his garden, he brought the garden inside: "as I am obliged to remain often in a bed because of the state of my health, I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk... there are leaves, fruits, a bird." How is that for adaption?!
The Tate guide to the exhibition summed up this accommodation and adaption of his illness perfectly: "As his strength declined, the ambition and scale of his new cut-out method increased." When I support people to self-manage, finding alternative ways to achieve things is often central to our conversations, and that is exactly what Matisse had done. Unable to be active physically, he became more active creatively instead: "when his own movement was so severely limited, Matisse chose to depict a body performing the extremes of flexibility and motion." As we can often so easily dismiss, low physical energy or ability doesn't necessarily have to mean low energy or ability in other areas of our lives. "Frustrated by his bedridden inability to pant, then, he had discovered a way of working that afforded him the vigour and agility he now found it impossible to muster in front of an easel." For me, this reinforced the purpose of self-management to me - it isn't just about coping, but about living and working well.
Despite his celebrity status, Matisse's experience of illness was much like anyone else's - he suffered with a range of symptoms, mental and physical, and the spectrum of emotions anyone with a long term health condition will be familiar with, frustration, anger, fear, loneliness. This makes his experience and work resonate so much more with me. His openness about particularly the emotional and mental elements of his health struggles adds power to his work - in an early informal way of peer support! During an interview in 1950, Matisse said "I believe my role is to provide calm. Because I myself have need of peace."
What struck me was how this self-management technique became a art form in its own right - a powerful tribute to how adaption and other self-management techniques are not just a mean to an end but often an opportunity to discover other ways of doing things and liberate oneself. For all the challenges of living with illness, it can give us the unique opportunity for exploration and discovery that we might never otherwise have. For someone who often works in bed, or at least in my pyjamas, Matisse's collection of stunning art created in the same situation was inspiring.
One of the most uplifting exhibitions I think I have ever been to!